My annual review of what I’ve most enjoyed listening to during the last 12 months, and my albums of the year.
This year I added 32 new releases to my collection, compared with 17 last year. So in many ways, 2017 was a better year for me in terms of the number of new releases acquired. Many of these were as promos from bands, record companies or promotion agents—many thanks if you’ve sent me something to review on my 195 metal CDs blog.
Top 15 artists (Last.fm)
Before launching into my top 10 though, I’ve just taken a look at my Last.fm top 15 artists over the last 12 months. This reflects what I’ve actually been listening to over the last year: at home, at work, and on my Android phone.
Seemingly, I listened to…
- 346 artists (compared with 423 in 2016)
- 602 albums (compared with 524 in 2016)
- 4,854 tracks (compared with 4,293 in 2016)
So I listened to more albums by fewer artists.
So, compared with last year, it looks like I listened to more albums by fewer artists, but more tracks overall. I clearly had some artist-listening binges. Eight of the fifteen artists didn’t appear on the list last year, and many of these didn’t have new albums released this year.
What doesn’t appear in this data is the Mozart CDs that I’ve been playing on a hardware CD player that isn’t connected to Last.fm. I strongly suspect that Mozart is actually my #1 artist this year.
My top albums of 2017, in terms of track plays were:
- Steven Wilson—To The Bone (141 tracks played)
- Klogr—Keystone (108)
- Krysthla—Peace In Our Time (86)
- Barrington Pheloung—Inspector Morse volume III (76)
- Devin Townsend Project—Ki (64)
I love the new Steven Wilson album, the next two were review albums that I’ve played to death, and I listened to a lot of Inspector Morse soundtrack music while pondering about buying the complete works of Mozart box set.
I was meant to see Devin Townsend in concert in Glasgow earlier last year, but my journey there was thwarted by an over-enthusiastic lorry driver who ignored all warning signs and tried to cross the Forth Road Bridge during high winds which resulted in the bridge being closed for four hours and me missing my concert.
Onto the votes for this year. Honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the top 10 go to:
From Eden to Exile—Modern Disdain
Galactic Cowboys—Long Way Back to the Moon
10. Public Service Broadcasting—Every Valley
I was a little disappointed with Every Valley when I first listened to it, if I’m completely honest. I know that some people think it’s the best thing they’ve done but I loved The War Room (2012) EP and The Race for Space (2015) and this goes in a slightly more daring direction. It’s certainly their most ambitious album to date, and the most progressive.
That said, Public Service Broadcasting still remain a vibrant, exciting voice in rock and this album has grown on me through the year.
9. Amplifier—Trippin’ with Dr Faustus
I love Amplifier as a band. They’ve still not released anything that made me quite as excited as their debut, self-titled album in 2004, but parts of this album certainly come close. This album has a groove and a cosmic grandness that’s hard not to get excited about.
One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Anubis”, a song built around an acoustic guitar; it’s a very different direction for Amplifier but it’s beautiful.
I reviewed this album on my 195 metal CDs blog, earlier this year. This was my conclusion:
From my first play through of this extraordinary EP I’ve loved this collection of music. Sure people are going to make immediate comparisons to Rage Against The Machine and Senser, as I have done. But that doesn’t detract from the quality of the playing, or the songwriting, or the production. Listen to the first two albums from Slayer—they wanted to be Mercyful Fate and King Diamond; Metallica played their first few years of gigs passing off Diamond Head and Budgie songs as their own until they found their own voice.
Given the chance Haema will also find their own distinct voice. But as a starting point, this is nearly perfect. I haven’t felt this excited by a not-entirely-metal release in a long time. I had the same burst of adrenaline and excitement listening to this as I did listening to Senser’s Stacked Up album in 1994. This album makes me smile and nod my head along to it for all the right reasons.
More like this please.
7. Opeth—Live at Plovdiv
I’m cheating a little here. Live at Plovdiv wasn’t a commercially released live album, it was five live tracks released on a Metal Hammer magazine cover CD. But five live tracks that I played endlessly in my car for a few weeks.
Opeth played this set in an old Roman amphitheatre in Plovdiv, Bulgaria in September 2015. The first half of the concert was accompanied by the Plovdiv Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Levon Manukyan, and this short CD contains five of the eight tracks they played together.
6. Cavalera Conspiracy—Psychosis
Released on 17 November 2017, this album has been a late entry to my top 10 but it’s made quite an impact. Cavalera Conspiracy’s debut album Inflikted (2008) remains one of my favourite debut metal albums. It is relentless from start to finish. This, their fourth album, follows suit. The album at times feels like the post-Roots Sepultura album that never was.
My favourite song on the album “Terror Tactics” (track 2) has a strange two-part feel, with the opening half a face-grinding full-frontal attack, and the latter a more contemplative groove.
5. Sepultura—Machine Messiah
There is a reason that Sepultura were my fifth most-played artist throughout 2017, their 2011 album Kairos is fantastic, and I have played it to death throughout the year.
Since their departure from Max Cavalera and later his brother Igor, the Derrick Green-fronted Sepultura have forged their own sound, supported by Andreas Kisser and Paulo Jr. I know there are a lot of haters out there of the ‘new’ Sepultura but I love them. I’ve seen them live and they don’t disappoint. And neither does this album. Having listened to Andreas Kisser’s solo album (Hubris I & II) you can really hear his signature sound woven throughout this album.
4. Godflesh—Post Self
I do love me a bit of Godflesh, the experimental, industrial metal band formed by Justin Broadrick (guitar, vocals and programming) and GC Green (bass). As I’ve probably said elsewhere, their second album Streetcleaner (1989) is one of my favourite albums to work to, and especially code.
Post Self is a return to form for Godflesh. I was delighted when the band regrouped in 2010—they had disbanded in 2002 after Green left and Broadrick had a breakdown, and then formed Jesu. Four years later they released Decline and Fall EP (2014) and A World Lit Only By Fire (2014). It took me a while to get into those releases, the full album more than the EP, but I connected immediately with Post Self, especially track 2 “No Body”.
3. Krysthla—Peace In Our Time
When I previewed this album in March I gave it 100%, and I stick by opinion. This is what I concluded:
There is no doubt that Krysthla in 2017 are a force with which to be reckoned. This is one brilliant album. On my first couple of listens through there were a few moments where I wasn’t entirely convinced. I wondered at the time if the album might drop a few percentage points. But now I can’t remember what my niggles were.
This album is a beautifully crafted statement of modern British metal and I love it. I have said again and again throughout this blog that what really fires me up is interesting music, music that appeals to all my senses, that appeals to my intellect as well as my ears. And this album, like their debut, has it and has it in abundance.
2. Mastodon—Emperor of Sand / Cold Dark Place EP
Another cheating entry, I’m lumping Mastodon’s two 2017 releases together: the thunderous Emperor of Sand and the exquisite Cold Dark Place EP.
I saw Mastodon live in Glasgow a few weeks ago. My cousin Alan invited me to celebrate his 50th birthday. They were fantastic: tight, heavy, fluid. Emperor of Sand is all of these and more. Other than Queen, where is there another band that has three such distinctive singers? But where is there one where the singers share the songs, verse about, chorus about? This is by far Mastodon’s most commercially accessible release but it loses nothing of their unique voice. The album considers cancer as an emperor in the desert
Cold Dark Place is a beautifully tormented collection of songs about a relationship break-up by guitarist/vocalist Brent Hinds. It was originally conceived as a solo album, but recorded during the Once More Round the Sun (2014) sessions. It’s a far darker, more contemplative work than Emperor. But I quite adore it.
1. Steven Wilson—To The Bone
Take one successful prog rock singer/songwriter, throw in a handful of 1980s pop music influences and what you get out the end is an exquisitely beautiful album of depth and creativity.
I love almost everything that I’ve heard from Wilson, whether it’s with Porcupine Tree, his solo work or his collaboration with Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt, Storm Corrosion.
There are songs on this album that wouldn’t feel out of place on an early 80s ABBA album, or something from Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush. But it all feels authentically Steven Wilson.
All in all, To The Bone is a lovely, lovely album, and let’s face it that’s exactly what I needed in 2017 given the year I’ve had… given the year we’ve all had.
Here above the clouds
I am free of all the crowds
And I float above the stars
And I feel the rush of love
Looking down at Earth
It is luminous observed